Advocacy in Action
Lifta Round Tables and First Geneva International Conference:
Defending Lifta and Other Vulnerable Cultural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value
Dates and venue forthcoming.
The Lifta Round Table discussions in Jerusalem and Ramallah and the International Conference in Geneva will address the future of Lifta, the last deserted Palestinian village still standing within the boundaries of the Holy City of Jerusalem, as established by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (Partition Plan) 29 November 1947.
Lifta: An Introduction
Lifta has been continuously inhabited for over 2,000 years and qualifies as a site of outstanding universal value. The extraordinary historical topography preserves the traditional landscape of the Palestinian hillside village as it developed over the course of many centuries. The ensemble, set within ancient terraced orchards and surrounded by olive groves in the valley, stands as a rare example of vernacular architecture. Moreover, the village harbors Roman archaeological remains as well as remnants of Byzantine and Crusader architecture.
Lifta, situated on the northwest slope of Jerusalem, was one of the first Palestinian villages to be depopulated during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. 3,000 residents fled following the destruction of the majority of their homes, businesses and schools. The State of Israel classified the remaining homes in Lifta as absentee property. The village was divided into two by the Green Line established by the 1949 Armistice Agreement.
During the 1967 War, Israel crossed the Green Line and occupied the West Bank, including Jerusalem, thereby illegally extending its jurisdiction over these territories. Liftawis whose homes are east of the Green Line are therefore considered protected person in terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention and should be afforded all the guarantees affirmed therein. The Israeli authorities view the remaining homes as absentee property, despite the fact that many of the owners live only 500 meters from the village and have keys to their homes. They have been deprived of the legal possession of their property and are prohibited from returning.
Of the 500 villages and locations that were forcibly depopulated in Palestine in 1948, Lifta is the only remaining Palestinian village in the Greater Jerusalem area that was not completely destroyed or repopulated by Israel.
Remnants of the traditional cultural landscape can still be seen. A mosque, cemetery, traditional clay oven, mill, olive press and more than fifty Arab homes are still standing; some almost intact, others in precarious states. These landmarks preserve Lifta’s historical topography and memory, and they are integral to the breathtaking scene of architecture and workmanship on its ancient terraced landscape.
The spring in the Wadi al-Shami, known as the “eye of Lifta,” was a source of communal life where women came together to wash clothes while their children played about them. The deceased were ritually cleansed under fruit trees by the spring, then taken to the nearby mosque, and finally interred in the cemetery.
Lifta: A Jerusalem Village
Lifta was one of the largest and most prosperous Arab villages in the Greater Jerusalem area; its history provides a rare window onto the economic interdependence and rooted cosmopolitanism that characterized Jerusalem until the 1948 war convulsed the city and severed it from its western corridor.
Official records indicate that in 1931 the number of houses stood at 410, most of which were built by Lifta’s Palestinian residents using the famous Jerusalem stone from nearby quarries. During the 1940s and leading up to the end of the British Mandate in Palestine in 1948, Lifta expanded markedly eastward and northward and its economic ties with Jerusalem grew stronger as nearly half of its cultivated land was planted with cereal, wheat, barley, olives and various fruits.
Liftawis played a vital and reciprocal role in customs and trade and their land holdings were extensive (8734 dunums). The economic, social and cultural role of the village extended deep into the everyday urban fabric of the city. The first spring vegetables were transported to Jerusalem markets by Lifta farmers. Village embroidery was famous.
Lifta: Under Threat
Lifta is under dire threat by the Israeli government. In June 2004 the Jerusalem Municipality Planning Committee produced a redevelopment project (Plan No. 6036) to turn the remains of Lifta into an exclusively Jewish luxury residential and commercial neighborhood. This plan, originally launched in April 1984, but never implemented, was later approved by a regional planning committee.
In February 2011, under the misleading cover title of a preservation project, the Israel Land Administration (ILA) requested tenders for bids from the private sector for the land of Lifta. The plan called for the building of some 245 luxury housing units, a shopping mall, a tourist resort, a museum and a luxury 120-room hotel on the ruins and remains of Lifta.
Master Plan No. 6036 is not only an attempted assault on memory, culture and identity but an attempt to ignore and re-write the history of Jerusalem by obliterating the city’s Arab and Islamic nature and its heritage. The new village, to be cast as Mei Niftoach, would be the death knell of Lifta, a site of outstanding universal value.
On 6 February 2012 the Jerusalem administrative court responded to a petition (number 405/2010) filed by Lifta refugees, their descendants, as well as Israeli activists. The Court ordered the cancellation of the Tender, published by the ILA, and ruled that prior to any further reissuance of permits a survey of Lifta that adheres to proper national and international standards must be conducted.
The ancient Palestinian village of Lifta has narrowly escaped destruction for the time being, but the refugees of Lifta and their descendants believe that this is only a momentary reprieve.
Defending Lifta: Round Tables and International Conference
Seizing this critical moment to demonstrate our international advocacy for a rights-based solution and acting in unity with the Liftawis, their global diaspora and the The Civic Coalition – Jerusalem, we extend an invitation to The Lifta Round Table and The First Geneva International Conference: Saving Lifta and Other Vulnerable Cultural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value.
The aims of the Lifta Round Table are as follows:
- To develop the framework for an alternative planning and preservation strategy for Lifta that will embrace and empower Lifta’s refugees to preserve and protect the history and memory of the site for humanity.
- To propose and evaluate the possible designation of Lifta as a Site of Conscience within the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.
- To record and preserve the experience of village life in Lifta by means of artifacts, archival documents, personal testimonies and oral histories of its refugees.
- To explore Lifta as a model and case study of Palestinian social, political, economic and cultural life before the dispersal of Palestinians from their homes from 1947-1949.
- To bring subaltern voices into the historical narrative and to widen the lens by which we view the catastrophe in Lifta, so as to gain new understanding of the broader history and development of Jerusalem.
- To develop strategies for advocacy (media and public activism) to stop the destruction of Lifta and preserve the village in accordance with the wishes of Lifta refugees.
The aims of The First Geneva International Conference: Saving Lifta and Other Vulnerable Cultural Heritage of Exceptional Universal Values are as follows:
- To investigate the applicability to Lifta of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property.
- To examine in-depth the international laws and UN resolutions that might be relevant to saving Lifta, and to develop an international strategy to preserve it.
- To present Lifta as a case study for other sites whose cultural heritage is marginalized by nation-states due to the weakness of mechanisms and lack of application and enforcement of international conventions and laws.
- To draft the First Geneva International Convention on the Protection of Vulnerable Cultural Sites of Outstanding Universal Value.
- To develop or join existing campaigns for Lifta to be listed by UNESCO as a heritage site.